Sunday, April 06, 2014

Robocop [1987]

My History With This Movie
            I was 9 years old when this movie came out, and although it was one of many ultraviolent movies in the 1980s I was forbidden to see, the Robocop franchise (W) became a cultural phenomenon that was impossible to be unaware of: the 2 sequels (W , W), and the usual publicity campaigns which accompanied their release, the toys and the merchandizing, the various cartoon spin offs (W, W), and the TV shows (W, W)…and of course all the schoolyard talk from my classmates who had seen it.

Why I Saw This Movie
          Once the hype from the franchise had died away, the adult me used to just dismiss this movie as another dumb 1980s action flick, and one not particularly worth seeing, but a couple of things recently put this movie back on my radar:
* I gained respect for the director Paul Verhoeven after listening to his director’s commentary on Starship Troopers, and listening to him talk about the nature of fascism in society, and Chomsky’s theories of media control, which made me think it was not so easy to dismiss him as just another dumb action movie director.
* My respect for Paul Verhoeven increased more after seeing Black Book.
* A Scottish friend of mine is a huge fan of this movie, and, while he was ranting about how it was sacrilege to remake Robocop (W) he was telling me about all the themes and political satire in the original Robocop, and he increased my interest.
* That same friend, when I confessed that I had never seen the original, was appalled, and insisted that I come over and watch it with him.
            And so, here I am reviewing it…

* Not your standard predictable action movie—there are a lot of unpredictable elements in the screenplay that keep you guessing as to where the writers are going with this story.
* Lots of political satire—much of which is arguably just as relevant now as it was in the 1980s: urban decay, crime, the desire for law-and-order leading to fascism, the corporatization of the military and police, the military industrial complex, the role of the media in creating a militaristic society, the parallels between crime syndicates and corporations, and the thin line between capitalists operating in legal markets and capitalists operating in illegal markets, and more.
* Lots of black humor.
* Great acting by a talented cast (Kurtwood Smith (W) is particularly brilliant.)

* A bit dated—special effects and action sequences which must have seemed incredible in the 1980s are now unimpressive.
* The first two acts of this film are brilliant, but the 3rd act throws away all of this potential and just degenerates into a typical, boring, action film.

The Review
          Not at all what I thought this film would be—I had thought Robocop (based on my knowledge from the cartoon series) would be a generic action hero.
            Instead, he’s merely a pawn in the schemes of others.  And when he starts following his own agendas instead of his pre-programmed commands, there are hints of Frankenstein’s  monster.
            It’s a very interesting idea which, combined with the political satire, black humor, and corporate intrigue of this film, make for an interesting premise.
            Unfortunately, the 3rd act abandons all of this potential and degenerates into a typical action film.
Rating :
7 out of 10 Stars (If the last third of the film had maintained the promise of the first two acts, I would have been tempted to give this film 8 or 9 stars, but alas….)

On of the things hinted at in Roger Ebert’s review, and confirmed by Wikipedia (W) is that this film had to go through multiple edits to tone down its violence until the MPAA would give it an R rating.  Even as it is though, it’s still a very violent film.  (….Or at least it was for its time.  After Sin City, Tarantino, and other films, I think it’s safe to say standards have changed.  But leaving that aside…)
            In retrospect, it is therefore strange to remember how much this franchise was marketed to children back in the day with tie-in cartoon shows and Robocop toys.  (As mentioned above, the cartoon show and the toys were my only point of contact with this franchise back in the 1980s.)  This youtube video here does a good job of pointing out that absurdity. 
            (The video hints, somewhat tongue in cheek, that the marketing of adult films to children was a cultural phenomenon unique to the time period.  What do you guys think?  True?  Or is this not unique to the 80s?)
            And one last link:
            I think its a common experience for people my age to have grown up in the 1980s being aware of these ultra-violent action franchises, but not being able to see them, and then only much later to track down these films as adults, and find out they’re not what we expected at all, and that the original was actually more intelligent and deep than we gave it credit for, and that it was only the sequels and resulting franchise that degenerated into the mindless action we associated with the film.  This has been my experience with Robocop, and it also parallels my experience (and I think the experience of many other people my age) with the original Rambo—another film which I was surprised to find was so completely tonally different from the mindless action franchise it spawned.  An excellent breakdowns of the elements and themes from the first Rambo comes from Whisky - Prajer

Link of the Day 

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